Basen doesn't actually know when he started to suspect something wasn't quite right with his family. It probably should have been months ago when his father and brother went back from their vacations. It should have been when Cale stopped acting like the family's disappointment and started to smile more, laugh more and be generally more humble and genuine.
It should have been - but at the time, they were all so exhausted from Cale's trash behavior it felt like a godsend for him to be behaving like a proper nobleman.
And yet... Even as Basen got used to this new normal, a few things began weirding him out about his brother. He wasn't drinking anymore - which was somewhat of a blessing in disguise for his health, but he also wasn't getting angry or upset at anything. During meals or talks with other nobles, Cale would only express basic opinions or look at their father, as if for guidance on what to do.
For someone who was so strong headed to be so meek was what tipped him something was definitely wrong.
Sure, his reputation had slowly become better as Deruth and Violan allowed him to participate in small events but to Basen it felt as if they took advantage of his change of behavior to parade him around like the docile son he had become.
So, one day, after a particular soirée involving their relatives, Basen took upon himself to talk to his brother after he had been amiable with the cousins that had bullied him when they were younger.
The smile Cale gave him after Basen called out to him was eerie, chilling.
"What do you want, Brother?" He asked, crossing his arms behind his back.
"Are you alright? Usually you ignore Hugther and Jeomas."
"I am perfectly fine! Never have been better. I simply wanted to apologize for my past behavior, you know?"
"Cale..." Basen said, his face creasing slightly as lead weighted down his stomach. "Do you remember why you had this behavior towards them... right?"
"I don't understand." Cale answered, the smile slipping from his face as he looked at Basen with incomprehension.
"When you were twelve? At Lily's birthday party?"
"I remember the party. She wore a cute blue dress." Cale smiled, looking to where their father was, but they were too far to see him properly.
"But you remember being with me the whole time, right?"
Cale's gaze went back on him, so unnervingly bright and calm despite Basen's growing uncomfort.
"You remember the insults they threw at me? Their mockery for not being a Henituse?! Cale! Do you remember taking my side?"
And Cale had stayed silent, blinking at him like he truly wasn't understanding his words. Basen gritted his teeth, feeling like he was going to puke. This was Cale. He knew it was his brother since no one had hair so red and hands so steady but at the same time, somehow, in a way he couldn't understand, this wasn't his brother at all.
During their silent stand-off, a servant approached them with a plate of finger food before presenting it to them. Basen shook his head at it, not feeling well enough to eat anything but Cale had accepted with gratitude before munching on the food. This made Basen want to faint, to puke or scream something unintelligible.
Because Cale was allergic to the main ingredient of this [meal] and he knew it perfectly, yet he was currently eating it without second thought.
Basen excused himself after that, light-headed and mind rowing with thoughts he couldn't understand, twirling and twirling like leaves in a tempest.
The fact Cale didn't remember the scathing remarks he had thrown at their relatives about Basen's legitimacy felt like a ball of fire churning his insides, making the youngest brother feeling somewhat ill. He didn't even wait for the soirée to finish before locking himself in his bedroom, sitting on his bed with his mind reeling.
If he had to pinpoint when his brother's behavior had come from 'lonely heir' to 'unruly brat', then the soirée where he had to protect Basen with mocking words and brash acts would be it. The flame in his eyes had begged others to try and question Basen's place in their family and it had burned anyone that did, for better and for worst.
Realizing this only several years later felt like a gut-punch to Basen, as his mind supplied to him a single soirée wouldn't be enough for people to stop badmouthing him. Escalation would have been the next logical step until Basen shone brighter compared to his fallen brother, who kept insulting, throwing things and drinking. If the adopted son, the one with no blood from the family, was suddenly made the heir because the first, legitimate son, wasn't an option any longer, no one would bat an eye.
But Basen couldn't understand Cale's sudden change in behavior. A single month wouldn't be able to fix five years of "trash", would it?
It meant, ultimately, that something was making his brother act this way. It would be the same thing that made him forget a lot of important memories about his past actions. Still, he had searched his bedroom for anything suspicious but nothing was amiss, nothing felt glaringly like a mind control device. The only difference was the lack of alcohol bottles and the scent of the candles Cale used for his frequent migraines.
He had thought of going to an adult about it but he didn't know who was involved in it. Basen was absolutely certain about their father having a hand in it but was their mother aware? What about Hans, who had accompanied the father and son duo in their vacation? Was Ron keeping quiet because of convenience?
Basen didn't know and it scared him to think whatever they did to Cale, they would do to him - or Lily - if they started acting out of line.
So, with no one to rely on, Basen started to plan, noting down anything that could help in breaking whatever spell his brother was under and keeping Lily in the dark about it all. It wouldn't be good if she were to lose her calm and start throwing accusations, after all. Basen loved his sister dearly but her impulsiveness was not something he could temper down in this delicate situation.
It was tiring, to act as if nothing was happening.
Because it was hard to keep his nerves in the mansion, Basen had taken the habit of going for a walk in the city, most of the time after supper 'to help with digestion', was his excuse. Even with a guard following him, he had come to appreciate those moments of supervised freedom. It helped him keep being level-headed as his home felt suffocating and artificial.
It was during one of these walks he found the man, half-hidden in the darkness of an alley near the walls of the city. With tattered clothes and quite dirty, he was gently holding cats in his lap. Basen couldn't quite see his expression, but he looked about the same age as his brother. It struck a chord inside of him, sympathy mixed with his need to help someone, anyone as he couldn't save his brother.
"Are you alright?" He asks the figure, who barely moved his head towards him. "Do you have anywhere to go?"
At this question, the boy seemed to curl more into himself, answering it without even a word. Poor soul…
"You can follow me, I'll help you. A roof above your head, a warm meal in your stomach, clean clothes…"
"Young master..!" His guard tried to stop him from moving further towards the boy but Basen shrugged him away easily.
"You don't look like someone that gives up easily." Basen continued, earning himself a look from the black-haired boy. "Just come with me. At least tonight, you will have food and a bed. Tomorrow, a new opportunity. What do you say?"
Saying that, Basen extended his hand towards the older boy, looking at those black eyes that resembled his own lately. Someone despairing but still walking forward because they couldn't simply yield to fate.
Basen felt relief when a gloved hand clasped into his own, a small glimmer in those black eyes looking up at him.